As Cupid sharpens his arrow for Valentine’s Day, it’s time for me to take you on another fleshy tour of saucy London. I can reliably inform you that Erotic Art in London is the most popular post on Diary of a Londoness. Which of course makes me laugh and wink right back at you. So follow me, Londoness, together with Venus and her sidekick, Cupid, in search of the best of erotic London.
Oh I say, Mr Sambourne!
Mr Edward Linley Sambourne of 18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, was a bit of a naughty voyeur. The house museum where he once lived is a Victoriana treasure trove and looks very proper indeed. That is, until you reach the top floor bathroom. When his wife Marion was away, Sambourne would invite female models to his house where he would snap them in their birthday suits. His bathroom is where he would develop the photos, and it’s now a gallery of nudes. He also used to catch unsuspecting people in the street using a concealed camera. I like to think Sambourne would have been very comfortable in the modern world of Instagram and reality TV!
This one gets many tongues wagging: is it an insult to women or simply a little bit of fetishly naughty fun? Chair, by British pop artist Allen Jones is on show in all its fleshy finery at Tate Britain. She might be well-padded, but whatever you do, don’t sit on her!
A Glass Canvas
The Victoria and Albert Museum has a permanent collection of Lalique’s iconic Art Deco designs, but you can also wander into the Lalique shop on 47 Conduit Street where you’ll be walking onto the set of some of the most sensuous scenery money can buy. Damien Hirst, Zaha Hadid and Elton John have created a collection of modern-day masterpieces for the wizard of glass, but my favourite has to be this baby below. It’s simply breathtaking and needs to be seen in the shimmering flesh to be appreciated. You can tour his factory, hotel and museum in Alsace with me here.
Sirènes (mermaids) by Terry Rodgers is fashioned from crystal and platinum and is a modern-day re-interpretation of Lalique’s 1927 iconic design. These dancing beauties might cost you a few gold coins, but they are worth every platinum drop.
Did the art critic John Ruskin burn the bulk of JMW Turner’s erotic sketches for the sake of preserving the artist’s reputation, keeping only a few “kept as evidence of a failure of mind only”? Whether myth or fact, Tate Britain has a collection of these very raunchy sketches, but you will need an appointment to see them.
Rodin at the Tate Britain
The French have always been masters of all things erotique, and Monsieur Rodin’s splendid Le Baiser (The Kiss) is one of the finest three-dimensional examples of sexual love. The adulterous lovers from Dante’s Inferno, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta are in the throes of a passionate embrace and moments away from being slain by Francesca’s husband. The Tate has its own version of the two-timing couple (which you can also see in the Rodin Museum in Paris) but it does goes out on loan, so catch it if you can.
Parthenon Sculptures at the British Museum
Staying with marbles, these two chappies below look like they’re having a rather homoerotic tug-of-war, don’t you agree? You can find them, together with the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum.
And thank you to my friend, Richard, who sent me these hilarious variations of Le Baiser which his art department once put together. They’re so very 21st century, aren’t they? You can follow Richard on his Twitter page.
More Ali Baba’s Cave than junkyard, you might need sunglasses for this glittering emporium of disco balls, film props and irreverent signage. Chris Bracey, the late owner of God’s Own Junkyard, started his neon life providing signs for the strip clubs of Soho before going on to supply the film industry and clients around the world. Getting to the shop in Walthamstow is a bit of a challenge, but it’s worth the trek. And whatever you do, bring your sense of humour with you!
Apparently, Elton John had his eye on the world’s longest standing erection, but the price tag was too high. You can examine the seven-inch mummified penis in London’s strangest cabinet of curiosities, the Viktor Wynd Museum in Hackney. And whilst you’re there, check out the jar containing Viagra and a pack of condoms, once found in a hotel room used by the Rolling Stones.
You may have missed one of my favourite exhibitions in recent years – the Modigliani at the Tate Modern. The master of the nude had twelve of his superbly dishevelled ladies on display here. They created such a scandal when they were first on show in Paris, that the gallery had to close the exhibition down after just one day. You can read my review here. But don’t fret: you can also find Modigliani at the Courtauld Gallery on a permanent basis (although you will now need to wait for the Courtauld to re-open its doors after a two-year renovation).
This luminescent, sexually-charged painting is by the Dutch Baroque painter, Peter Lely, who bizarrely is credited with the birth of the British nude. Lely also painted portraits for Charles II’s court.
Fauvist artist Vlaminck painted a series of portrayals of Parisian prostitutes in the style of Toulouse-Lautrec. His voluptuous Reclining Nude can be found draped on the walls of the Courtauld Gallery.
It’s cheeky, atmospheric, very strange and unsurprisingly, it caused a scandal when it was first on show at the Salon des Refusés. The original of Dejeuner sur l’Herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) is in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, but London has its baby sister in the Courtauld Gallery.
It’s still my favourite piece of erotic art in London: The Swing by Jean Honoré Fragonard at the Wallace Collection in Marylebone. This rococo masterpiece shows a young Peeping Tom looking up the skirt of a swinging lady’s pink dress whilst an older man controls the ropes behind her.
Another favourite of mine from the Wallace Collection, A Lady at her Toilet by Jean-Antoine Watteau. You can tour the Wallace with me here.
The suffragette Mary Richardson tried to destroy this languid, sensual Venus in 1914, but luckily for us, she was restored to her former glory and can be found in the National Gallery.
The world’s oldest guide to erotic pleasure is also available in a chocolate bar! Head over to west London’s pretty Turnham Green and to Philip Neal Chocolates for a little guilty pleasure.
Food for Thought
I’ll leave you with this. Nearly all of the images in my post are of women. Makes you wonder doesn’t it?